People who pay for prostitutes bear “responsibility for the lives stolen by trafficking”, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said.
Launching the Department of Justice Second National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking in Ireland on Monday, the day before EUAnti-Human Trafficking Day, she said human trafficking is a business and traffickers operate only to make money from human misery.
“And those who purchase the services of these victims fuel this evil trade – they too bear the responsibility for the lives stolen by trafficking,” she said.
Between January 2009 and December 2015, 417 victims of human trafficking were reported to or detected by gardaí.
Reasons for trafficking include for sexual exploitation and for labour, for sectors such as domestic, home care, farm and fishery work, and for criminal activity such as cannabis-growing.
The new plan, with input from non-governmental organisations working in the area, sets out 65 actions aimed at targeting those involved in human trafficking, as well as supporting victims, improving training and raising public awareness.
Among the actions outlined is the passing of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, currently before the Dáil, under which it will be an offence for a person to pay, offer or promise to pay for sex with a prostitute.
Ms Fitzgerald said a direct way of combating trafficking for sex is to send the message to those who pay for these services that “their behaviour is unacceptable and contributes to the exploitation of other people”.
She also said human trafficking undermines human rights and dignity, and has no place in a modern and civilised society. She urged the public to be aware of the signs of human trafficking, to share their concerns and report suspicions.
Also speaking at the event, Garda deputy commissioner Dónall Ó Caoláin said the protection of victims was a priority for gardaí and it was critical they received the support they deserved.
He said gardaí were dealing with transnational organised crime gangs, often quite sophisticated, and were more and more reliant on international investigation models and the co-operation of victims.
He highlighted the importance of collaboration between gardaí and other agencies “working in the space”.
Sarah Benson, chief executive of Ruhama, a charity that works with sexually exploited women, welcomed the plan.
She said 43 nationalities were represented in the women they saw in 2015, including some Nigerian women who had fled their villages because of terrorist group Boko Haram and were vulnerable to traffickers.
She also said there was an increase in women from Eastern Europe.
“Those who we meet are the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
Gráinne O’Toole, co-ordinator with the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, said domestic work continued to be problematic, but they were also beginning to see a lot of exploitation in the home care sector and a new trend of issues with farm workers. She said she was very hopeful for the plan.
Signs of human trafficking include children not being given access to schooling or travelling in groups with non-relatives; people living in groups in unsuitable places and working long hours, or people depending on an employee for work transportation and accommodation.
Other signs include women showing obvious bruises, cuts or mutilation, adverts offering the services of women of a particular nationality for sex, or women being escorted wherever they go.
Credit: Irish Times